19 August 2012

Evasion and deception at Library and Archives Canada

On July 31 Library and Archives Canada published an article Archives vs. Mould: Facts on Fungus on its blog.

In response I posted a short comment:
"I was recently informed that a unique historic newspaper in the LAC collection was destroyed due to mold without being copied. Why would that occur?"
The response from LAC was:
"Thank you for your question. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) did not destroy a unique historic newspaper from its collection, as this course of action would violate the institution’s policy. 
The management of LAC’s holdings is guided by a commitment that ensures that holdings are relevant and preserved in a state that the public will find useful, now and in the future.
LAC is not and will not be destroying any unique or un-copied material from its holdings. When disposition of a newspaper is considered, we first ensure that its content is available through duplicate copies or other formats such as microfilm or digital versions. Only then may we consider the disposition option."
Whatever the policy, the practice is reflected in this response I received from LAC
on May 1 this year, prior to the original blog posting,  regarding a request to access the Ottawa Citizen for 1 May 1912 which is not on microfilm
“Unfortunately LAC does not hold the May 1, 1912 edition of the Ottawa Citizen on paper anymore. Several copies of the newspaper were deselected because they were damaged.”
I subsequently received the following clarification:
“In June 2011 Library and Archives Canada was forced to remove from its collection newspapers that were damaged and contaminated by mold. Some newspapers have been irreparably damaged and consequently making them unusable. Combined with the high risk to the health of its employees, LAC felt obligated to remove the newspapers from circulation.”
My request to please explain how this is consistent with policy went unanswered in the blog although I did receive a personal response stating that "the blog is intended to be a channel for discussion on our services and collections and not our policy" so there would no public response.

That personal reply added that:
LAC is not removing any unique or un-copied material from its holdings as this edition of the Ottawa Citizen is available in microfilm format from other institutions (not so). As you are mentioning on your blog, you have visited other institutions and could not find a better quality print of that issue. I therefore suggest that you contact directly the Ottawa Citizen and find out if they still have an original copy of that issue.

This edition of the Ottawa Citizen was deemed inaccessible for public consultation due to its poor condition, as per the evaluation by our experts.
As this final paragraph suggested the newspaper might still be in the collection but in a state that it could not be produced I asked for further clarification and was informed:
LAC does not have in its collection a paper copy of the Ottawa Citizen for 1 May 1912.
While the Ottawa Citizen may well have a copy they have made it clear in the past on several occasions that their corporate newspaper archive is not open to the public. One can draw no other conclusion but that LAC deliberately disposed of a newspaper copy that was unique. LAC should have confirmed public availability.

If destruction of that copy was a mistake it would be better for the organization to admit it rather than practicing evasion and deceit to pretend that policy and practice are totally aligned LAC.

How many other unique Canadian newspapers have been destroyed in this way contrary to policy?

This small episode is symptomatic of a larger problem at LAC which cherry picks amongst the obligations it has under the Library and Archives Canada Act of 2004. Whereas an individual citizen can be prosecuted for any violation of the law Library and Archives Canada seems to treat the law as a menu from which it can select those parts to which it chooses to adhere.


Dawn Monroe said...

Imagine what the future holds id the LAC practices selective retention of publications! The loss through selective retention combined with the human efforts that result in additional loss may leave very little for future generations to do research!!!!
It will be up to Universities supported by Provincial governments or Public Libraries supported by municipal governments or for private industry (who can be very selective in what they produce and preserve) to provide research materials... I live in fear for future historians....

Anonymous said...

You're very brave.

If I were to make such comments, I would fear victimisation or withdrawal of readership rights by LAC.

Anonymous said...

I read this blog from time to time and although I am not always a fan of government institutions I have to wonder what your personal vendetta against LAC is.

I mean, what is the purpose of pigeonholing them with intricate details in emails from months ago that are in your opinion contradictory?

For example, I have worked in a newspaper morgue (where they keep old issues) and eventually they become so dry and brittle they break into a million pieces as soon as you touch them. It sounds to me like LAC are taking them out of public circulation because as soon as they are touched they would be destroyed.

I guess LAC could have put them on microfilm long ago and this problem would have been avoided but as they say hindsight is 20 20 but most importantly this is not the fault of the people who are working there at the moment.

From what I gather from your exchanges with them they are faced with many such volumes of newspapers that are falling apart and at the moment there is no obvious solution anywhere as to how to restore and preserve the ones that are in the worst shape.